The Kansas City Chiefs have replaced the New England Patriots when it comes to reigning over an entire division. For a sixth straight year, the Chiefs won the AFC West division in 2021 with a 12-5 record. Kansas City finished two games ahead of the Raiders, who joined the Chiefs as a playoff team after defeating the Chargers in the final game of the regular season.
Los Angeles finished just outside of the AFC playoff picture with a 9-8 record, while the Broncos finished last in the division after posting their fifth consecutive losing season. The Broncos will be lead by a new head coach in 2022, as Nathaniel Hackett goes to Denver after serving as the Packers' offensive coordinator over the past three seasons. The Raiders will also have a new coach in 2022, as Josh McDaniels arrives in Las Vegas after helping the Patriots win six Super Bowls over an 18-year span.
While the Chiefs are still considered the frontrunner, a new champion could certainly be crowned in the West in 2022. Whether or not that will happen will largely depend on what happens over the next several months in free agency and during the NFL Draft. Here's a look at each AFC West's biggest team needs and how they could choose to address those needs over the next few months.
Team needs: QB, LB, EDGE, OG, OT
Despite their uncertainty at quarterback, only one of our four CBS Sports NFL Draft experts has the Broncos using their first-round pick on that position. Our experts could be banking on the Broncos' ability to acquire either Russell Wilson or Aaron Rodgers, whose arrival in Denver would immediately raise expectations for next season. The Broncos were able to lure Peyton Manning to Denver in 2012, and history could certainly repeat itself this offseason. If Rodgers comes to Denver, there's a very good chance that Davante Adams would come with him.
Look for the Broncos to address their defense with the ninth overall pick in the draft. Two of our draft experts have the Broncos selecting a pass rusher in the first round. Ryan Wilson has the Broncos selecting Florida State's Jermaine Johnson III, while Kyle Stackpole has Denver selecting Michigan's David Ojabo.
The Broncos could use an influx of talent on the offensive line, but don't expect them to pursue any big-name linemen in free agency. Instead, expect the Broncos to add to their line through the draft while also signing some less-heralded veterans in free agency.
Los Angeles Chargers
Team needs: DT, OT, WR, EDGE, TE
The Chargers finished 29th in the NFL in scoring defense and 30th in run defense in 2021. The Chargers also struggled to consistently apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks, a major issue given who plays quarterback within their division. One of our draft experts has the Chargers selecting Georgia defensive lineman Travon Walker with the 17th overall pick in the draft. Brandon Williams, Dante Fowler Jr., Jadeveon Clowney and Larry Ogunjobi are just a few free agents the Chargers could pursue in order to bolster their pass rush and run defense.
Los Angeles will also look to make upgrades at offensive tackle to better protect quarterback Justin Herbert. Two of our draft experts have the Chargers selecting an offensive lineman in the first round: Texas A&M's Kenyon Green and Northern Iowa's Trevor Penning. The Chargers offense has two pending free agents in receiver Mike Williams and tight end Jared Cook. Given Williams' uncertain future, one of our draft experts has the Chargers selecting former Ohio State wideout Garrett Wilson with their first-round pick.
A free agent option at receiver could be JuJu Smith-Schuster, a California native who earned Pro Bowl honors during his time with the Steelers. A couple of potential free agent options at tight end include Zach Ertz, Rob Gronkowski, Mike Gesicki, Robert Tonyan, Evan Engram, and David Njoku.
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Las Vegas Raiders
Team needs: WR, OG, C, LB, DT
The Raiders surely want to supply Derek Carr with a stronger receiving corps. Sans Hunter Renfrow, no other Las Vegas receiver had 50 receptions last season, as Carr relied heavily on Renfrow, tight end Darren Waller and running back Josh Jacobs in the passing game. Two of our draft experts have the Raiders using the 22nd overall pick to select Alabama receiver Jameson Williams, who caught 15 touchdowns for the Crimson Tide last season.
Las Vegas also needs to make significant upgrades to its offensive line. Ted Karras, Morgan Moses and Connor Williams are possible free agent options as it relates to the offensive line. Draft expert Ryan Wilson has the Raiders selecting Boston College lineman Zion Johnson with their first-round pick.
We can't forget about the Raiders defense, which finished 26th in scoring and 32nd in the NFL in red zone efficiency last season. Fortunately for the Raiders, there will be a slew of talented defensive linemen who will be on the market next month. Anthony Hitchens, Dont'a Hightower, Jayon Brown and A.J. Johnson headline the group of linebackers the Raiders may pursue in free agency.
Kansas City Chiefs
Team needs: CB, WR, EDGE, LB, S
The Chiefs fell short of their goal of making it back to a third straight Super Bowl in 2021, but they did become the first franchise to host four consecutive conference title games. If they want to make it back to the big game, the Chiefs will have to bolster their pass rush after recording just 31 sacks last offseason. To help fill this void, two of our draft experts have the Chiefs using the 30th overall pick to select Purdue defensive end George Karlaftis, who tallied 14 sacks and 29 tackles for loss as a Boilermaker.
With Tyrann Mathieu set to enter free agency, one of our experts has the Chiefs selecting former Michigan safety Daxton Hill in the first round. At cornerback, the Chiefs will likely look to take advantage of a solid market that will likely include J.C. Jackson, Joe Haden, Stephon Gilmore, and Kyle Fuller, among others.
It will be really interesting to see what the Chiefs do at receiver as Demarcus Robinson and Byron Pringle are both set to enter free agency. The Chiefs may again choose to pursue Smith-Schuster, who turned down their one-year offer last offseason. They may also try to re-sign Sammy Watkins, who played an integral role on the Chiefs' 2019 Super Bowl-winning team. Other options at receiver may include Odell Beckham Jr., Allen Robinson, Chris Godwin, and Mike Williams. Any of these wideouts would be a huge addition for a Chiefs offense that already includes Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce.